By Zindzi Nkunzi
On Wednesday, 20 October 2021, Rhodes University launched the African Water Resources Mobility Network (AWaRMN), a five-year multi-partner project funded by the Intra-Africa Academic Mobility Scheme of the European Union (Agreement N° 2019-1973/4 - Project N° 614587). The network is set to address the pressing water-related challenges faced by the African continent, through cooperation in higher education.
These pressing needs will be addressed through:
- A transdisciplinary, socially-engaged training embedded in existing programmes within partner institutions, ensuring increases in the numbers of highly qualified and competent (MSc and PhD) graduates in the field of water resources in Africa.
- Developing and harmonising programmes and curricula, with a particular emphasis on disciplinary excellence and transdisciplinary capability.
- Building and sustaining teaching and research capabilities among partner institutions.
- Designing and implementing research programmes based on collaboration and cooperation during, and beyond, the AWaRMN funding.
- Facilitating student and staff mobility to promote multiculturalism and internationalisation among African institutions of higher learning.
- Contributing to innovation and water technologies that advance social-economic development of Africa.
- Addressing the professional career development and employability of graduates by creating a direct interface between AWaRMN and industry partners.
One of the aims of the Intra-Africa Academic Mobility Scheme of the European Union is to support student and staff mobility in Africa. The overall objective of the programme is to enhance human capital development in Africa, while strengthening intra-African cooperation in higher education as called by the agenda 2063 of the African Union. AWaRMN is in partnership with six universities, including Rhodes University, Federal University of Technology, Minna (Nigeria), Makerere University (Uganda), University of Kinshasa (DRC), National Higher School of Hydraulics (Algeria), and Delft University of Technology (The Netherlands).
The launch included panel discussions and presentations by various stakeholders partners, namely: Uganda’s Minister of State for Higher Education, Dr John Chrysestom Muyingo; Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister, Dr Blade Nzimande (represented by Dr Mmampei Chaba: Chief Director Multilateral Cooperation and Africa); International Aid/Cooperation Officer, Regional and Multi-country programme for Africa, Directorate General for International Partnership European Commission, Ms Eleonora Martinello; Rhodes University Vice Chancellor, Dr Sizwe Mabizela; Federal University of Technology (Minna) Vice-Chancellor, Prof Abdullahi Bala; Makerere University Vice Chancellor, Prof Barnabas Nawangwe (represented by Prof. Buyinza Mukadasi, Director of Graduate Research and Training); Higher School of Hydraulics Rector, Dr Hebbouche Abdelhamid; and the Dean of Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management, Delft University of Technology, Prof Aukje Hassoldt (represented by Prof Jill Slinger).
Dr Mabizela welcomed all attendees and partner institutions, with special appreciation to distinguished guests, ministers, government representatives, Vice Chancellors and Deans of partner institutions of higher learning, and the representatives of the funding agencies. He opened with words of gratitude and appreciation for the institution hosting the virtual launch, saying: “Our institution is inordinately honoured and privileged to serve as a coordinating institution for this important continental initiative”.
Dr Mabizela indicated that such networks are central to the development of the African continent. He said through this initiative, higher education institutions and the continent will be able to develop the much-needed capacity and capability to respond to the real challenge of water on the African continent. Acknowledging and commending the programme aim, Dr Mabizela said such initiatives have the potential to inspire and deepen cooperation and collaboration between and among institutions of higher learning. He mentioned that the success of this initiative would be through supportive government policy in the home countries of all partner institutions.
AWaRMN Coordinator at Rhodes University, Professor Nelson Odume, introduced the objectives of the programme and how it aims to respond to the pressing water challenges faced by Africa. He said one of the critical and possible ways to achieve the goals of the initiative was through sharing ideas on how different countries on the continent are responding to challenges and “to facilitate intra-Africa mobility in the field of water resources to promote knowledge exchange, multiculturalism, and internalisation”.
One of the panel discussion topics was “the contribution of the Intra-Africa Academic mobility scheme to Agenda 2063 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”. Department of Higher Education, Science and Innovation Chief Director Multilateral Cooperation and Africa, Ms Mmampei Chaba, said it was important for developing countries to put their efforts together to support water research and innovation activities and build their own capacity to manage water resources. Another topic which was discussed was “the benefits and challenges of Intra-African Academic Mobility to Internationalisation and water research”. The discussion highlighted possible economic and academic benefits, identifying potential solutions to enhance capability for the betterment of the continent. Prof Bala indicated that the network assists in strengthening research capability across the world.
Dr Mabizela encouraged unity between African scholars and proposed that African universities should develop their own knowledge and share among other African universities. Addressing the effects of colonisation, he suggested that the African continent should develop its own human capability. The diverse representatives identified and tackled challenging issues of poor connectivity of the application systems, visas, impediments of diverse language, culture shock, and difficulties in transferring credits among others. Prof Slinger acknowledged the role that the European Union (EU) mobility framework has played in developing research competence in Europe and internationally, and called on the African partners to institutionalise procedures supportive of student and staff mobility within their universities.
The conference attendees agreed to use cooperative and collaborative means between the partner institutions to combat the pressing challenge of water resources and to create a better and sustainable African continent.